Rob Rees’ tips on reducing food waste

Filed in Blog by on January 28, 2009 8 Comments
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Get gloucestershire cookingYesterday, we spoke to Rob Rees, The Cotswold Chef, about zero waste week and food waste. He promised to share some tips with us about how everyone could reduce their food waste at home.

Rob takes a lot of his inspiration from the 1940s ‘thrify’ ways; many of these are common sense, but many of us have forgotten (or never learned) how to be frugal with food.

With landfill issues prevalent, zero waste week in full swing and the credit crunch on our doorstep, what better time to share some of Rob’s wisdom!?

Many of the people I have spoken to about food waste have a lot of fear and lack of knowledge about what they can and can’t do when using up or reheating leftovers. It’s no surprise for many younger people who have only ever had to rely on a ‘best before’ date stamped on everything they buy. This allows us to absolve our responsibility and encourages us to throw things away rather than ‘risk’ eating them.

Here are Rob’s tips for reheating meat or fish

  • Whilst important to utilise as much of your scraps as possible such as sauces, gravies, vegetables and meats they should also all be totally fresh
  • Once your meat has been cooked – allow it to cool as quickly as possible and remove it from the bone. Then place it in a fridge. Do not store leftovers for longer than 2 days. If you reheat food make sure it is piping hot and do not reheat twice.
  • When starting to use it for your reheated dishes remove any excess fat so as to stop your reheated dish from being greasy
  • Keep any bones and trimmings for stocks and sauces
  • Remove any bones and skin from fish that you may be reheating in products
  • Meat and Fish products should be chopped small or minced well for reheated products as this stops them from going tough
  • Reheated Fish and Meat products can sometimes be bland so often an extra spice or seasoned product can be added. To reduce added salt consider items such as Smoked Haddock for fish items, diced hams and gammons for meat plus other products like: onions, mushrooms, curry powders and pastes, lemon rind and juice.
  • Any added ingredients to compliment your fish or meat should be cooked first eg: potatoes for fish cakes, vegetables for shepherds pie, onions in rissoles   – this is because short reheating times do not allow vegetables to cook from raw
  • It is important to add moisture to your item in the form of a sauce or gravy. The meat or fish has already lost moisture during its first cooking process. Create a white or light coloured based sauce (Béchamel/Cheese) for white meats and fish and a brown sauce for dark meats and game. See recipes below.
  • If considering a shallow or deep frying of your reheated products such as kromeski and croquettes then they must be bound in a thick sauce to stop them falling apart during cooking and cooked in a hot oil to stop the fat oozing into the product and making it greasy.
  • It is recommended that all reheated fish and meat is protected from the heat to stop it drying out. That is why they are often enclosed. Eg Mash on a Shepherds Pie, Pastas around a Cannelloni, Breadcrumbs on Fish Cakes, Batter on Toad in the Hole

  • When adding your fish or meat to a sauce for reheating make sure it goes into a hot sauce but not boiling – a boiling sauce will toughen the product instantly.
  • The added flavour for your sauce comes from making a good fresh stock from the left over bones and vegetables.

The majority of food waste is fresh fruit and vegetables. Many people fall for the Buy One Get One Free (BOGOF) offers and don’t get around to using everything up. I think we are all guilty of sending things to the compost heap or the landfill that we have found hiding in the salad drawer or fruit bowl.

Rob’s tips for vegetables

  • Usually only a short time elapses during picking vegetables and their processing into tins or freezer bags. This means that on most occasions the nutritional content can be as good as like for like fresh ones. However prices can vary. Wash of any brine from tinned vegetables before using them.
  • When freezing your own vegetables they should be young , seasonal and in excellent condition.
  • Scalding vegetables before hand preserves nutrients and colour and stops contamination of odours from other items.
  • Prepare them as you normally would for cooking and in small batches immerse them in boiling water. Small batches preserve nutritional value and stops colour loss. Literally scald for about 1 ½ minutes for Peas up to 3 minutes for Carrots and then place into some cold icy water. This stops them cooking further.
  • Once cold place into your bag or container and fill to the brim. This is important as you need to exclude as much air as possible – otherwise your shelf life and quality goes down.
  • Freeze as quickly as possible after this process.
  • Do not thaw when removed from freezer before use. As they have been scalded their cooking time will be less.
  • Remove from their packaging and cook in boiling water – reducing the cooking time from that of fresh vegetables.

Many of us have food scraps – bits of food that don’t constitute a meal in themselves, and we’re not really sure what to do with. Some of you have shared great tips throughout the site on what you do with bits and pieces left in your kitchen, but it’s always great to hear of new suggestions.

Rob’s tips for kitchen scraps

  • Keep your butter wrappers to place over products when cooking to keep them moist – utilises the final bits of butter and saves on tin foil and baking paper.
  • Trimmings of Vegetables can be used to bulk out stews and casseroles or made into soups. They can also be used perhaps diced and mixed with olive oil and herbs to bulk out salads and couscous.
  • The end bits of cheeses! – yes you know what I mean – grate them and place into a bag in the freezer. Then when required use a sprinkle for gratinated dishes, flavouring cheese sauces or mash potatoes.
  • Chopped Herbs – any spares can be frozen and used to flavour reheated dishes and stews. The colour denatures but the flavour is great.
  • Scraps of Bread for bread crumbs for coatings and rissoles or slightly stale bread for Bread and Butter Pudding.
  • Consider using slightly sour milk to make Soda Bread (only takes 30 minutes to make this yeast free product and great tasting) See recipe below.

Finally, it’s better to stop the problem at source. By learning how to shop and choose the right products, we end up with less food waste. Do you know how large an average portion of meat or vegetables should be? What about buying in bulk; do you know the sorts of things that will last a long time?

Rob’s tips for buying and shopping

  • Start to plan your meals and keep a diary list of them.
  • Incorporate into your home menus dishes that you know will create enough leftovers for a further meal to support all your household on another day
  • Create a shopping list and costing sheet for each of these menus.
  • Allow yourself though to be inspired by the new seasons and try shopping somewhere new to see a wider variety of fresh items perhaps.
  • Bulk by non-perishables – such as grains, pulses, pastas, tinned and jarred foods. This will be cheaper and are always useful to have in the store cupboard to bulk out dishes.
  • Remember that a good portion of Breads, Rice and Pasta Dishes will fill your children up and so they are far less likely to need to graze on the sweets, biscuits and chocolates that can be expensive and less healthy.
  • Portion control is really important. By aiming for the recommended portion in terms of a healthy diet you can also end up being really thrifty. We have all been spoilt by piling our plates high.
  • A Portion of Fish is 140g.  A Portion of Fruit/Vegetables is 80g.  A portion of Meat 100g.
  • To control your waste consider shopping at places where you can pick and choose exactly the amount of food you want eg: farm shops, markets, greengrocer, butchers, bakers and deli counters of supermarkets and other independent stalls
  • Understand that as you cook food it shrinks or there is natural wastage such as peelings or cores. Try and estimate the correct sized ordering of meat or fish to match the required final portion. Add into the equation the consideration of do you buy aiming for enough leftovers to create a further family meal or just a few odd bits.
  • A roasted joint on a bone will loose approximately 35% of its uncooked weight during cooking
  • A piece of fish on the bone and skin will loose approximately 25% of its uncooked weight when boning and skinning.

Finally, if you’re on a budget and you’re not convinced that cooking from scratch can save you money (not to mention saving on plastic waste), then Rob has estimated costs of basic foods. You’ll learn how much a portion is, how many a certain amount of a food will feed and the approximate cost. This can be really helpful when trying to work out your own budget.

Rob’s menu costing template

500g Potatoes (Bakers)  3-4portions  58p    14p each

1kg Peas (Fresh)   3 Portions  £2.99  99p each

500g Runner Beans (Fresh) 3-4 portions  £2.00  50p each

1kg Broccoli /Green (Fresh) 4-5portions  £1.79  35p each

1kg Spinach (Fresh/Bag)  4-5portions  £3.58  71p each

600g Stewing Meat   4 portions  £4.65  £1.16 each

200g Risotto Rice   4 portions  44P  11p each

125g Macaroni   4 portions  20P  5p each

300g Long Grain Rice  4 portions  41p  10p each

240g Couscous   4 portions  39p  9p each

500g Filleted Fish (Frozen ) 3-4 portions(Coley) £2.42   60p each

1kg Oven Ready Chicken  4 portions  £4.99   £1.25 each

400g Dried Pasta Shapes  4 portions  63p  16p each

300g Spaghetti   4 portions  30p  7p each

Rob was recently interviewed on local Radio where he spoke about his adventures with the Cole’s who live in the county. Rob went into their kitchen and turned their leftovers into meals in support of Gloucestershire’s zero waste week challenge. Listen here.

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About the Author ()

I am a long time supporter of the Green and Sustainable lifestyle. After being caught in the Boscastle floods in 2004, our family begun a journey to respect and promote the importance of Earth's fragile ecosystem, that focussed on reducing waste. Inspired by the beauty and resourcefulness of this wonderful planet, I have published numerous magazine articles on green issues and the author of four books.

Comments (8)

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  1. Kris says:

    Lots of good info there – I’m always very nervous about freezing guidelines so this is very helpful.

    I’m not bad on wastage though as I buy little and often with most vegetables and fresh foodstuffs so we have what we need (and eat all of it!)

    I’ve seen various programmes with visual reminders of portion sizes, roughly a playing card pack size is your protein, and starches are about a closed fist. I’ve also seen one that said limit your fats to the size of a fingernail – damn, that’s most chocolate out then.

  2. maisie says:

    All good tips and info here.

    I have a few of the wartime books by marguerite patten and the new re-vamped Kitchen Front one as well.

    I think that alot of wastage is down to not having the know-how of how to deal with and change the original item into something else.

    I would like to see not only cookery in schools but also lessons on how to deal with the leftovers etc.

  3. Mrs Green says:

    @Kris: Glad you found it useful, Kris. The size of a fingernail! I can eat more than that amount of butter on 1 ryvita!

    @maisie: Seeing ideas for using up leftovers in schools would be a great idea, Maisie instead of focusing on something ‘new’ all the time…….

  4. This is a wonderful resource by Rob. I particularly love the hint about taking time to explore seasonal options. Since I started focusing on our rubbish a year ago, I’ve naturally moved towards fruit and vegetables in season, buying local where possible and reducing packaging. My biggest coup has been sourcing a 12.5kg sack of spuds for just £4 from our local farm shop. It’s helped make the switch from rice and pasta which we used use as our basics. The good old British spud is far more versatile. 😀

  5. Mrs Green says:

    Mrs A – I love following the rhythms of nature with food too. Nothing tastes better than seasonal fruits and veggies, plus of course, there is money to be saved by shopping in this way.

  6. Sorry if I missed it – you have been posting like a fiend and I am trying to catch up! What do you freeze in? Plastic bags? And then what to do with the bags later? This is why I have not been freezing to preserve things; seems wasteful. Did I miss something?

  7. maisie says:

    @ThinkingWoman: Personally I freeze in the margarine tubs etc that I have.

    I can recycle these at our HWRC but like to re-use them to death first.

  8. Mrs Green says:

    I use washable containers too – yogurt pots, old ice cream tubs, tuperware containers. I would like to wean myself off plastic and switch to glass or similar, but I’m not about to do it yet, due to financial outlay.
    Other things get bottled

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